German brand Focus have a choice of five Black Forest 29ers or three 26ers. Frame quality is similar throughout but the componentry varies. The 3.0 is the cheapest big-wheeler in the range to come with a fork that we would recommend. It also has a great wheel and tyre setup and a 3×10 Shimano drivetrain but, at 13.15kg (29lb), it’s not among the lightest of its genre.
Ride & handling: Fast-rolling trail leveller
With a combined diameter of 30in, the big wheels and high profile tyres make for a smooth, comfy ride right from the off. The tyres offer a minimum of rolling resistance that, combined with their rock-steady handling, helps you carry speed through twisty, technical trails with far less braking and body language than on a similar 26in-wheel bike.
A 29er carries a little more weight but the smoother roll of the bigger wheels over rough terrain appears to make up for this, even on the ups. Standing start acceleration is not as nippy as on a 26in-wheeled bike, but there was nothing else we could pinpoint on the Focus that created a disadvantage over similarly equipped and similarly priced, 26in-wheeled bikes.
Frame & equipment: Star-studded spec, crankset aside
The hydroformed alu frame of the 3.0 is a no-nonsense offering finished in a tough battleship matte grey and black overcoat with red-orange highlights. The tubes are reinforced where necessary but there’s no superfluous shaping.
Urban utilitarian duties are slightly limited by the fact that there are no rack or mudguard bosses, but that’s not unusual on a bike at this price – its generous mud clearances make it eminently suitable for UK off-road use.
The XC32 fork has the fattest stanchions of the RockShox budget range, as well as a decent compression and rebound feel, a leg bottom dial to adjust rebound, an air spring that’s easy to tune for rider weight, and a bar-mounted lever to stifle compression on flatter trails.
Note that Focus sizing is a little more generous than many other brands – a large has a 540mm (21.3in) seat tube.
The 10-speed rear mech is the highlight of the drivetrain, but it’s ably backed up by an SLX front mech and Deore shifters. Most hardtails at this price seem to manage a crankset with an incorporated axle and outboard bearings, but a more downmarket Shimano Octalink unit still performs superbly here, with the gears offering such a big choice that the granny ring remains redundant for all but the steepest, longest climbs.
The wheels are well built and we like the high profile and fast rolling tread of the Continental 2.2in RaceKing tyres, although their traction abilities are very limited when the mud starts to get sticky.
All the finishing parts (saddle, seatpost, stem and wide, flat bar) are Concept house brand offerings that do the job very competently, and there’s a good stack of washers on the steerer for bar height adjustments.
Avid’s Elixir 1 brakes are simply average and don’t have a great durability reputation, but a lot of riders will welcome the 180mm front rotor.
This article was originally published in Mountain Biking UK magazine, available on Apple Newsstand and Zinio.